In 2010 a small group of us set up a Transition initiative in my home town in East Yorkshire which we named ‘Home Grown Hornsea’. Since then we have attempted to put into practice many of the Transition ideas including Visioning Conferences, films, seed swaps, planter giveaways, reskilling workshops, all of which were quite successful; an alternative currency, a health food shop and cafe which weren’t.
The biggest achievement has been the establishment of a Community Orchard which has around 140 fruit and nut trees surrounded by soft fruit bushes and an edible hedgerow. However, 8 years on our group is even smaller than when it began and we struggle to find the manpower to even keep on top of the orchard let alone run all the other projects. Despite our best efforts, it seems that the vast majority of people, in this part of the world at least, either don’t understand our mission or do not consider it relevant to themselves. I suspect that we are not the only town to suffer from this problem and have reluctantly reached the conclusion that the mainstream will only embrace the many great Transition ideas when there are no easier alternatives.
The group scything
At the present time the giant corporations, which wield more power than governments, are pulling all the strings to ensure that we are completely subservient to their needs and continue on the path of rampant consumerism which is causing such devastation to the planet. I think most of us are now aware that under the current system there can be no transition to a sane and sustainable society as the imperative of continuous growth will not allow for it. Logic also dictates that at some stage the current system must collapse, since we live on a finite planet. The only question is how long this will take. All the signs are that we are already reaching the limits to growth and that the global financial system is under severe strain. However, Capitalism has so far proved to be very resilient and capable of adapting to ensure its survival. Unfortunately, the longer it is able to do so, the more devastation it causes, the more sensible options are impeded and the more catastrophic are the consequences.
I suggest that we cannot afford to wait for physical limits to be reached. We must bring about collapse in the shortest time possible even though we are not prepared for the aftermath. We have to face the fact that the gains made by the environmental movement have so far been drowned in the sea of carnage wrought by our voracious expansionism. We have been swimming against the tide and the waves of Capitalism have been far too powerful for us. So now that the monster is beginning to encounter the limits to growth can we go on the attack and hasten its demise? I believe so.
Since coming close to death with pneumonia and leukaemia 10 years ago I have been adapting to a simple, totally organic, plant-based diet, suitable for this climate and designed to provide me with optimal health. The bulk of the diet is fresh fruit and vegetables which I either grow on my allotment or buy from my local veggie box scheme. The rest I am able to buy from the wholefood co-operative, Suma, through our local buyers group scheme. This brings me the considerable satisfaction and relief of never having to enter a supermarket nor a doctor’s surgery/chemists. I have also renounced flying and car ownership as well as prioritising respect for the earth in every other aspect of my life.
It has occurred to me that by doing so I am neglecting to play the corporate game by not consuming their products and services. How many of us would need to follow suit to seriously affect the profits of the corporations? I am no economist but is it not the case that only a relatively small percentage of the population could have a significant impact? Could the need for corporations to produce continuous growth prove to be their Achilles heel? Could it be that instead of struggling to engage the masses in the strategies for change, it would be more effective for those of us who are already active to genuinely walk the walk as well as talking the talk? Could the Transition and Permaculture movements build up a critical mass of ‘corporate non-consumers’ to help dismantle the status quo and lead us into the new paradigm?
I realise that becoming openly anti-establishment risks alienating many people and there are valid arguments for keeping the focus on developing positive alternatives. However, I see this as being a peaceful, non-confrontational way of bringing about the urgent change that is needed for those positive alternatives to come to the fore. There would be no need to protest or campaign against any individuals or organisations. Instead we would simply need to focus on our own integrity and being true to our beliefs.
My ‘near death’ experience 10 years ago initiated me on a spiritual path which has involved much soul searching and attempts to find inner peace somewhere beneath the chaos that is generated by my ego mind. I have learnt that the key to finding true serenity and happiness (and probably to solving our planetary crisis) lies in freeing ourselves from our attachments. In this age of abundance, we have developed many pathological tendencies surrounding consumption, possession, control, security, etc. which make us easy prey for the giant corporations and their powerful marketing tools. To become successful ‘corporate non-consumers’ we first need to lay the foundations by uncovering and freeing ourselves from our own dependencies and addictions. This is not an easy path to follow but I believe it is the only route to true freedom, peace and harmony, both individually and collectively. Certainly, there can be little doubt that, in the harder times to come, those with the fewest needs will be the best prepared.
In the meantime, it is of course, imperative that we continue to develop and promote Transition, Permaculture and other viable alternatives but I would suggest that those initiatives that are severely hampered by the constraints of the current paradigm are best left until after the crash. Where we can and must progress at the present time, I believe, is in the restoration of community and local democracy. This will surely be crucial in determining whether the post-crash world becomes a brighter one or whether it degenerates into chaos and violence. The current assault on our communities through ‘austerity’ and loss of services is a great threat but it can also bring people together. In Hornsea this is certainly proving to be the case. Our only cultural centre, the Floral Hall, was due to be demolished by the Council until the people protested, took it over and turned it into a spectacular success story. The loss of our Minor Injuries Unit has led to the birth of a Community First Aid Centre run entirely by volunteers and funded by donations. Six years ago, our United Reformed Church launched a project called ‘Living Well’ to offer help to people suffering from social isolation. It has been so successful that it is now being overwhelmed with GP referrals and ‘Social Prescribing’. We are now campaigning to prevent the sell off of our library and to turn it into a Community Centre.
These and other projects have helped to convince me that most of the problems we are facing could be dealt with more effectively at a local level rather than having ‘solutions’ imposed on us from afar. There will be many, I’m sure, who fear that the problems posed by the collapse of the current system would be insurmountable. Whilst I agree that it will be extremely tough, I have great faith in humanity’s greatest strength; our ability to adapt, providing that we are capable of co-operating together within and between communities. We have seen many times how adversity often brings out the best in us.
Recently I have taken great heart and inspiration from the Kurds in Rojava, Turkey who are building the world’s most progressive, egalitarian and ecological society based on the principles of ‘Social Ecology’ developed by Murray Bookchin. If a people who live in a war zone under constant persecution are capable of such a feat then surely it is not beyond our means as well?
So, in summary, I am proposing that we should build a movement of corporate non-consumers dedicated to ending the current paradigm as soon as possible and ushering in a new one in which Permaculture and Transition principles and practices take centre stage. Whether that be via a change of emphasis in the Permaculture and Transition movements themselves or through the launch of a separate entity is something to debate. Perhaps it could be called MAGIC (Movement against Giant Corporations)?
I would be grateful for views and suggestions as to how the idea might be taken forward. Contact me: Paul Hanson pahanson21[@]hotmail.com